How to grow Black Pepper
By Laurelynn Martin and Byron Martin
|Black Pepper plant|
|Peppercorns on plant|
|Spots on the backsides
of the leaves
|Green and red peppercorns
Black Pepper (Piper nigrum) is the most commonly used spice in the world and when paired with salt can be found on almost every household table in the United States. (Ultimate Guide To Growing Black Pepper, April 2013). Black Pepper has known health benefits such as: it increases nutrient absorption, improves heart rate and blood pressure, promotes healthy cell growth and digestion, acts as an anti-inflammatory, and enhances the immune system. The beauty of the Black Pepper spice is that not much is needed to get the beneficial effects. (What is Black Pepper Good For? Jan. 2013, Mercola.com) The plant, Piper nigrum, is native to South India, loves the hot tropics and has been in cultivation for over 2,000 years. In temperate climates, Black Pepper makes an excellent houseplant.
Green and red peppercorn fruits are often found on the plant at the same time. The red fruit is the ripening fruit. The peppercorn can be picked whether the color is green or red depending on which type of peppercorn you desire. If you want black or green pepper as your final color then, harvest the peppercorn when it’s green. If you want white or red pepper, then harvest the peppercorn when it is red.
Black Pepper has a vining habit so it grows well in a basket or in a pot with a stake or trellis for support. Attach the stems to the trellis so the plant climbs easily.
In its native habit of southern India, Black Pepper is an understory plant that climbs up trees and grows in dappled light. When grown as a houseplant, it needs moderate light in an east or west window and it should be placed directly on the windowsill or close to your light source if grown in a light garden. It does benefit from some direct sunlight but not hot noonday sun. Like other tropical plants, Black Pepper can be grown outside during the summer months and brought inside for the winter.
If you are looking to optimize your flowering and fruiting, then providing daytime temperatures above 70˙F (20˙C) is ideal. Black Pepper grows best in temperatures above 60˙F (15˙C).
The flowers start growing at the leaf nodes of new growth. The small white flowers form pendulous spikes and then small, round, green peppercorns form in chains, which in time ripen to red. Growth slows down in the winter, yet it will fruit and flower year-round. The pepper plant can produce an abundance of peppercorns in a pot as small as 8-inches.
Black Pepper needs low to moderate fertilization with a balanced fertilizer. There are two ways to fertilize the pepper plant. First, you can use a soluble or liquid fertilizer applied every two weeks when you water. Or, you can use a granular organic fertilizer and top dress the plant once a month. Top dressing means to sprinkle the fertilizer on top of the soil and every time you water, a little bit of fertilizer is released. A note of caution: don’t over fertilize your black pepper plant. We use this rule of thumb: if your plant is being grown under high light and high temperatures then increase the fertilizer. If your pepper plant is grown under lower light and temperature levels, then decrease the fertilizer. During the winter months stop fertilizing the plant until warmer temperatures and higher light levels resume in spring.
Black Spots on the Pepper Leaf
Black spots on the backsides of the pepper leaves are totally normal. They are small crystalline balls that contain sugars called exudates. Over time, these balls turn black. They are sometimes mistaken for insects. They are not. Do not try to remove them. They are part of the plant’s normal physiology and do not harm the plant.
If your growing conditions are too cool and wet, then your pepper plant can be susceptible to root disease. The best way to prevent this problem is to grow the plant in a clay pot and allow the soil to dry out between waterings and make sure your daytime temperatures are above 70°F and your night temperatures don’t drop below 60°F.
Pepper has few insect pests. Mealy bug is the main culprit but only if other infected plants are nearby.
Black Pepper is a resilient tropical fruiting plant. It makes an excellent hanging basket or an attractive container plant with a stake or trellis for the plant to climb on. The excitement of harvesting your own peppercorns and grinding your own black pepper makes Piper nigrum a highly sought after and well-loved plant for the home fruiting garden.
What is Black Pepper Good For? Jan, 2013, http://foodfacts.mercola.com/black-pepper.html
http://www.offthegridnews.com/2013/04/17/the-ultimate-guide-to-growing-black-pepper/ by Julie C. April 17, 2013
Growing Tasty Tropical Plants in any home, anywhere. By Laurelynn Martin and Byron Martin, (Storey Publishing, 2010)